Sunday, January 15, 2017

Grand Ole Opry 2016 Year in Review

2016 is officially in the books and it is time for my annual year in review. As always, it was an interesting and eventful year.

In  2016, there were a total of 205 Opry shows. That represents an increase of 15 shows from the previous year. The breakdown is as follows, with the changes from 2015:

Friday Night Opry: 56 (+2)
Saturday Grand Ole Opry: 70 (+9)
Tuesday Night Opry: 49 (-1
Wednesday Night Opry: 11 (+3)
Thursday Opry Country Classics: 16 (+2)
Saturday Matinee: 1 (0)
Tuesday Matinee: 2 (+1)

There were 63 Grand Ole Opry members at the beginning of the year. Of those 63, 2 passed away during the year: Ralph Stanley; and Jean Shepard. That left the Opry with 61 members to conclude the year. While no new members were added in 2016, invitations were given to Crystal Gayle and Dailey & Vincent, who will become official members in 2017. 

Of the Opry's 61 members who completed the year, 48 made at least one appearance. Among those were Keith Urban, who did not make any appearance the year before. While 48 Opry members appeared on the Opry, 260 guest artists performed. To break it down further, when you add up the total number of appearances by Opry members and guests, it comes to 2003, with Opry members making up 1035 of those, or just over half. 

There were several highlights this past year, 2 of which included the membership invitations to Crystal Gayle and Dailey & Vincent. Among the career highlights, Alan Jackson and Vince Gill celebrated their 25th anniversary as members of the Opry; Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers their 40th; Ray Pillow his 50th; Bill Anderson his 55th; and Stonewall Jackson his 60th. Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood returned to the Opry stage in an unannounced appearance and there were increased appearances by a number of other Opry members.

Ryman Hospitalities, the owners of the Grand Ole Opry, spent the year announcing plans to invest heavily in the Nashville downtown area. They seem committed to further building their brand, along with that of the Opry. In relation to the brand building, the company announced plans to build an Opry theme venue in New York City. And with "Nashville" returning on CMT, expect more cross branding between the show and the Opry.

So how did the members do this past year as to appearances? Here is the list, starting with the Top 10 and the number of appearances increased or decreased from 2015:

1) Mike Snider-121 (+33)
2) Connie Smith-97 (+9)
3) Jeannie Seely-96 (+12)
4) John Conlee-81 (+26)
5) Bill Anderson-77 (-5)
6) The Whites-72 (+9)
7) Riders In The Sky-67 (-3)
8) Bobby Osborne-55 (+1)
9) Larry Gatlin & The Gatlin Brothers-53 (-23)
10) Jesse McReynolds-44 (+3)

There were no changes in the list from a year ago, but it is interesting to see the huge increase in appearances by Mike Snider and John Conlee. And while Larry, Steve and Rudy are down from a year ago, the number of appearances is still significant.

While it is not officially written down, Pete Fisher has been quoted as saying that he would like commitments from new Opry members to appear 10 times per year. So outside of the Top 10, who made the cut in 2016? Let's take a look:

Ricky Skaggs-31 (-4)
Vince Gill-23 (-9)
Del McCoury-22 (-7)
Lorrie Morgan-14 (-2)
Montgomery Gentry-11 (+8)
Carrie Underwood-11 (+1)
Pam Tillis-11 (+3)
Diamond Rio-10 (-3)

Adding it all up, 18 of the Opry's 61 members made the cut. That is down 4 from last year. (It should be noted that those members who were added to the cast prior to Pete Fisher becoming general manager in 1999 have not been held to those standards set).

So what about the rest?

Charlie Daniels; Craig Morgan; Old Crow Medicine Show; Marty Stuart-9
Little Big Town; Ray Pillow; Rascal Flatts-8
Trace Adkins; Darius Rucker; Josh Turner; Steve Wariner-7
Oak Ridge Boys-6
Roy Clark; Terri Clark; Brad Paisley-5
Joe Diffie-4
Dierks Bentley; Alison Krauss; Loretta Lynn-3
Patty Loveless; Martina McBride; Ronnie Milsap; Charley Pride; Keith Urban-2

That accounts for 24 more, bringing the total to 42. As bad as it might sound, I really have no issue with those who at least made 5 or more appearances. While nothing to be proud of, at least they made the effort to come out.

Then there are those who just came out one time: Garth Brooks; Alan Jackson; Hal Ketchum and Trisha Yearwood.

And to finish it off, here are the "actively performing artists" who are Opry members but made zero Opry appearances in 2016:

Clint Black
Emmylou Harris
Reba McEntire
Dolly Parton
Blake Shelton
Travis Tritt

For a couple of those on that list, it has been years since they have appeared on the Opry. In the case of Travis Tritt, he hasn't appeared since Porter Wagoner passed away in 2007. However, Travis is on the current schedule to perform on the Opry at the end of February while Clint Black is scheduled for a show in April.

Finally, there are those who are retired or had health issues and did not appear in 2016: That list includes Tom T. Hall, Jeanne Pruett, Barbara Mandrell and Ricky Van Shelton. You can also add Jan Howard and Stu Phillips, neither of whom appeared in 2016 and have left indications that they do not currently plan on returning. Mel Tillis was ill and medically unable to appear, while Stonewall Jackson did make one appearance for his 60th Opry anniversary. The last person I will name is Randy Travis, who while unable to perform, did come to the Opry twice and was introduced on stage.

Now that I have covered the Opry's members, what about those who made guest appearances? Well, in 2016 the leader was "Nashville" star Charles Esten, who came by the Opry 24 times. If he was an Opry member, that would have been the 12th highest. As to how followed him, the list of those who made at least 10 guest appearances is as follow:

Jimmy Wayne; Carly Pearce-21
Mark Wills; Chris Janson-17
William Michael Morgan; Exile-16
Jackie Lee-15
T. Graham Brown-14
JT Hodges; Flatt Lonesome-13
Mo Pitney-12
Darryl Worley; Michael Ray; Craig Wayne Boyd; Ray Scott; Scotty McCreery; Lindsay Ell;       Mandy Barnett; Restless Heart-11
Lee Greenwood; Jim Lauderdale; Holly Williams; Smithfield; Love and Theft-10

When you add it all up, 18 Opry members made at least 10 appearances, compared to 25 non-members. It would seem that there are a few non-members who support the Opry more than a majority of Opry members. And when you look at some of the names on the list, such as Jimmy Wayne, Mark Wills, Exile, Chris Janson, Darryl Worley, Holly Williams, and Mandy Barnett, this is not a one year deal, as these artists have been appearing on the Opry for a number of years. Finally, in case anyone is wondering, the two new members-to-be of the Opry, Crystal Gayle and Dailey & Vincent appeared 6 and 9 times respectively.

In all, 2016 was pretty similar to the past couple of years at the Opry. The year saw the passing of several veteran Opry members and a continued shift to younger guest artists. The pattern of reduced appearances for several of the veteran acts continued. And while I do not have specific numbers, the reports I have seen show that it was another very good year for Ryman Hospitalities and for attendance at the Opry, as the majority of the shows were sold out.

Only time will tell what 2017 will bring. Obviously the year will get off to a strong start with Crystal Gayle becoming an Opry member in January, followed by Dailey & Vincent in March. Jeannie Seely and Stu Phillips will each be celebrating their 50th anniversary as Opry members later in the year, while Loretta Lynn is set for number 55.

The biggest change will be in who is going to be running the Opry with the recent resignation of Pete Fisher. It will be interesting to see how the process plays out. However, no matter who is in charge, I believe that the Opry will continue on its current path as the show continues to move toward the century mark.

Regardless, I continue to be a fan of the Opry and have great expectations that 2017 will be another good year for the "show that made country music famous."

As I conclude, my thanks again to all who read and comment on the blog and to those who have taken the time to email questions and other personal thoughts to me. I do appreciate each and every one of you. Finally, a special mention to Christina Abt, who was kind enough to have included me in her series "64 and More." It was a joy and I have heard from many who have watched it, along with the other subjects that were interviewed. My thanks again.

(*As a disclaimer, the recorded number of appearances is based on the tracking that I do of the shows. If there is an error, such as a missed appearance, my apologies).


  1. Byron, this is great, and thanks for an incredible amount of work you put into it.

    I think there probably should be asterisks by Ray Pillow, who I am sure would be willing to appear more, and Stonewall Jackson, who may not feel welcome.

    I also would like to ask Connie Smith's husband what he has been doing that is so important that he could make only nine appearances.

    1. As always, I really enjoy reading your Year in Review, Byron. Always very interesting to see final numbers for the year ...

      Chris Janson doing only 17 shows this year; he toured with Blake Shelton last year.

      I'm happy with the two new Opry members - hopefully Crystal Gayle will appear like a member and I am VERY happy that Dailey & Vincent have been invited to become members. I think they are terrific. Maybe one day, Darrin's sister will be invited. Sure would be nice. They need more than one female bluegrass member - having only Alison Krauss, who appears at best a few times a year, and some years not even that, doesn't cut it for me.

      Don't care at all about Garth and/or Trisha - to me they so don't even cut it as members.

      Michael, as soon as you get your answer from Connie Smith's husband, please do tell. No new tv show from him ... though a new album coming out soon; which was solely recorded in California. I just think he's done with doing a tv show period. So far my opinion holds true, he has nothing in the works right now even though he says he loves tv - heck, I love tv too, doesn't mean I'm going to be on it. His shows were great for the seasons it was on. Now Patrick Gottsch has other "faces" for his cable channel, at one time Marty was the "golden boy" for RFD-TV, now? Not so much.

      All the best to Pete Fisher ~ really looking forward to his replacement, not, that I think, things will change. The course is set for the Opry in my opinion.

      Have a great year everyone ~


  2. I will second the thanks for putting the year in review together, along with the rest of the great articles and news you regularly post. A couple things that really surprised me in the article 1) Chris Janson "only" doing 17 shows. I don't know his 2015 total off hand, but that seems a lot less than he had been doing. Stopping to think about it, I would say I've seen his name on the lineups less ever since the big chatter several months back about whether he was about to be invited. Wonder if he realized he wasn't getting the invite now/soon and decided to cut back on his commitment? 2) While I praised each of the new invitees as good choices (even if they aren't Chris), I was surprised to see that neither were able to do 10 appearances as guests last year. That may not bode well for them getting to 10 once they are members, but who knows. 3) I was disappointed more of the "out of the spotlight" members couldn't appear more. A lot of the members that ended up appearing between 5-10 times are ones that I would think could have made it to 10+.

    Not new news, but curious anyone and everyone's thoughts on Garth and Trisha's apparent strategy of only showing up unannounced, as I think their last 2-3 appearances have been. On one hand, he is probably the number 1 country concert ticket these days and I get him not wanting people to hear him a) for less $ than his concerts and b) with all of the money going to the Opry instead of him. On the other hand, being a member should mean you want the Opry to grow and be strong, and putting Garth's name on the marquee (so to speak) is about as big as it gets. Ultimately, I get the reasons why, but I am not a fan of it.


    1. Joe, just an FYI as for as Chris Janson. In 2015 he was on the Opry 28 times.

    2. Chris Janson has five appearances (either made or scheduled) already in 2017...

  3. Fred, Bismarck:

    Thanks, Byron, interesting and informative as always. We will all hope for the best for the Opry in 2017, with a special rooting interest in the change at the top. (Remembering always that Steve Buchanan, who grew up rockin' and rollin', remains in place!)

  4. Byron:
    I know he is retired, but is Sonny Osborne still considered and listed as a member?

    1. David, in the Grand Ole Opry 90th Anniversary Family Album, the Osborne Brothers are listed as members. In previous editions of the Opry's Picture History Book that were put out after Sonny retired, only Bobby Osborne was listed as a member. My guess is that someone said something and that is why they went back to listing both brothers as members. Let's remember, Sonny retired, he did not die. When Jeanne Pruett and Barbara Mandrell retired, they were, and still are, listed as members.

  5. Byron: Thanks for another great job well done. Bob